9th Cir Says "Let's Wait" On Hawaii Supreme Court To Rule In Bridge Aina Lea
by Robert Thomas, InverseCondemnation, June 13, 2014
The final words in most appellate oral arguments by the jurists are usually something along the lines of "we'll let you know." In Hawaii state courts, the Chief Justice signals you're done with "we'll take the case under advisement," while in many federal courts, the presiding judge informs you "the case is submitted." Or words to that effect.
It was no different in the Ninth Circuit oral arguments in Bridge Aina Lea, LLC v. Chock, Nos. 12-15971, 12-16076, case argued earlier this week before the Ninth Circuit at its session in Honolulu. The case was "submitted for decision." Listen yourself at the end of the oral argument recording.
Today, however, the panel issued this order withdrawing the submission, in anticipation of the upcoming Hawaii Supreme Court oral arguments in the related state litigation, scheduled for June 25, 2014. The NInth Circuit judges were keenly interested in the Hawaii case arguments, quizzing both lawyers about the anticipated time frame for a decision from that court (these days, you usually do not have to wait very long after arguments for the Hawaii Supreme Court to issue a decision -- the court works pretty quickly). The judges didn't say, of course, but it appears they believe that a ruling from the Hawaii Supreme Court on the merits might make a decision by the federal court unnecessary. The appeal in the Ninth, after all, does not focus on the merits of the plaintiffs' claims, but rather on somewhat arcane questions of federal procedure - quasi-judicial immunity, Pullman abstention, and Williamson County ripeness.
So what we have here is a "punt," or maybe more accurately a "wait and see" by the Ninth Circuit.
Next up: we'll post the full set of the briefs filed in the Hawaii Supreme Court. Stay tuned.
PDF: Order, Bridge Aina Lea, LLC v. Chock, No. 12-15971 (9th Cir. Jun. 12, 2014)
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9th Circuit Orals In Bridge Aina Lea: Pullman Abstention, Qualified Immunity, And "Haunted By Williamson County"
by Robert Thomas, InverseCondemnation, June 11, 2014
Here is the oral argument recording in Bridge Aina Lea, LLC v. Chock, Nos. 12-15971, 12-16076, case argued yesterday in the Ninth Circuit at its session in Honolulu. As we previewed, the issues involved Pullman abstention and immunity. As for Williamson County ripeness, an issue the court asked the parties to brief separately, one of the judges (it sounds to us like Judge William Fletcher) said he was "haunted by Williamson County" (click forward to the 12:25 mark). Aren't we all, Your Honor, aren't we all.
LINK: Ninth Circuit Oral Argument No.12-15971
Next up, the oral arguments in the Hawaii Supreme Court in the state court case, scheduled for June 25, 2014, which may have an impact on the federal appeal (one judge asked counsel, "What if we wait until the Hawaii Supreme Court does whatever it's about to do, will that illuminate these issues for us?"). More on that soon.
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Ninth Circuit Sua Sponte Raises Williamson County Ripeness, Asks For Briefing, Gets Some
by Robert Thomas, Inverse Condemnation, June 8, 2014
It's been our experience that when a court of appeals -- particularly when it's the Ninth Circuit, and it's the eve of oral argument -- raises an issue on its own after the briefs have been filed and requests supplemental briefing, then whatever that issue is must really be on the judges' minds. They're the cream of the crop (right?) and along with their cohort of law clerks (the next generation cream), they know the law (right?). And, as one Ninth Circuit judge candidly revealed at one of those bench/bar tip sessions last year, law clerks like nothing better than to catch the advocates in a misstatement or to find a missed argument, so they can present the issue to their judge like a cat bringing home a dead bird to its master (we're paraphrasing that last bit, of course, but the judge did say that clerks groove on finding things the lawyers get wrong or have missed).
So it is with great interest that we post the latest in a case we've been following, which will be argued before an august panel of the Ninth Circuit on June 10, in Honolulu. We're talking, of course, about Bridge Aina Lea, LLC v. Chock, Nos. 12-15971, 12-16076, which we blogged about last week (including the full set of briefs on the appeal and cross-appeal). The issues before the court on appeal read like an outline for a 3L Federal Courts class, and involve a claim for absolute and qualified immunity (several members of the State of Hawaii Land Use Commission were sued by the property owner in their individual as well as official capacities), Younger and Pullman abstention, and the like. The substantive claims include due process, equal protection, and takings claims (among others). This is manna to us law nerds.
But after briefing was submitted, the Ninth informed the parties that Williamson County ripeness was on the panel's mind, and if the parties would submit 10-page letter briefs on the applicability of that case, Their Honors would be most appreciative. Odd. But when judges ask you this sort of thing even though you may be puzzled, you can't politely decline or say "really?" in your brief, although as the letter briefs posted below reveal, that's pretty much what both sides did because both the property owner and the LUC agree that Williamson County has little if anything to do with the issues before the court on appeal:
As to the "final decision" prong of the ripeness test, there's no question there's no more administrative process to play out, so it is strange the court would ask for briefing on that. The LUC made its decision, there's no process to reconsider or to mitigate it (don't get us started on so-called "variance" in federal takings jurisprudence), and there's nowhere else to go but to court. Which the plaintiff did. Indeed, it went to state court, and it was the LUC which removed the case to federal court.
Which takes us to the second prong of Williamson County, the requirement for a plaintiff to utilize available state procedures to obtain compensation. As noted, the plaintiff did just that, and it was the LUC which took the case to federal court. Thus, there is little doubt that this prong of Williamson County should not apply here, unless the Ninth is willing to join those courts which have concluded that Williamson County requires a federal court to grant a motion to dismiss because the case is not in state court, made by the party that brought the case to federal court from state court. Amazingly, this argument gets traction in some courts, although there have been other cases where the courts have rightly seen through this argument's inherent chutzpah. The LUC, being the party which removed the case to federal court, rightly does not argue that Williamson County now demands dismissal from federal court for the plaintiff's not seeking compensation in state court.
So with both parties agreeing that Williamson County doesn't have much, if any, impact on the appeal, where does that leave us, and why did the court even raise the issue when the answer was, in our view (and, to the parties) so obvious? The panel is comprised of Circuit Judges William A. Fletcher, Sandra Ikuta, and Andrew Hurwitz, if that information might help tell you about why they think the case is relevant. We sure can't understand it. Maybe we'll find out on Tuesday.
2011: A Primer on Bridge Aina Lea Case